Lakewood Ranch always brings out the best in Braden River seniors Courtney Mirabella and Hannah Loyer.
Part of it is the passion of a neighborhood rivalry.
Part of it is payback.
Lakewood Ranch has beaten Mirabella, a four-year standout, more times than any other team in the state.
"I lost to them four times as a freshman, even though two of those games I had mono, and I lost in the district championship game as a sophomore," Mirabella said.
The hard-throwing right-hander and Loyer made sure it wouldn't happen Thursday night in a 3-0 victory
over the visiting Mustangs. Mirabella struck out 14, and Loyer smashed a two-run homer.
"She saved me again. She has done that a lot, and more than once against Lakewood Ranch," Mirabella said. "I love playing them. It's my favorite game of the year because I know them all, and we've always been rivals."
The North Carolina State signee allowed four hits, walked three and threw 19 first-strike pitches in going the distance to improve her record to 3-1. The Pirates are 5-1.
Loyer drove in all of Braden River's runs off Lakewood Ranch starter Amanda Rak. The centerfielder unloaded a two-run homer in the fourth, scoring Ashley Allard, who reached on an error, to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead. In the first, Loyer's single scored Kenya Yancy.
"On the home run, the pitch was kind of right down the middle," said Loyer, who is second on the team with a .412 batting average and first in slugging (.706). "It's special to beat Lakewood Ranch. It's our main rival, and it's fun. I've been hitting well this season because I have been selecting good pitches instead of just swinging at everything."
Mirabella did not give up an extra-base hit. The Mustangs (2-3) put their best rally together in the seventh, when Taylor Newton and Sierra Schoppacher singled, but Mirabella pitched her way out of the jam.
"We worked all week for Courtney. We've known her for a long time, and in my mind she is one of the premier pitchers in the state of Florida," said Lakewood Ranch head coach Tony Cummins, who led the Mustangs to the state final four last year. "Considering all our injuries, I think we hung in there and battled well. We are missing two starters and are hurting a little bit.
"Courtney has always been a dominant pitcher. She is cool under pressure, never gets rattled and does her job every time. We don't have a number one (pitcher) right now. We have two girls, and our number one will emerge near the end of the season."
For Lakewood Ranch, Jen Trotter is out with an ankle injury, and Jackie Schoft is recovering from surgery on her shoulder, which hindered her last year.
Along with Loyer, Jessica Cadorette had two hits for Braden River, including a double for the Pirates' only other extra-base hit.
"They (Mirabella and Loyer) are having a great year," Braden River head coach Erin Spivey said. "Hannah has been on fire. She has been phenomenal. At practice, she is working hard and is listening and making the adjustments at the plate. She swings super hard and lately she is coming out of her shoes."